GH And Petey's Timberwolves Blog

Saturday, January 22, 2005

That's What I'm Talkin' 'Bout

Q: What does Wally Szczerbiak have in common with an animated Disney female?
A: 34-6-8

After the 3rd quarter, Wally spiked the ball in the middle of the court. The Sonics fans were pissed. They don't understand the plight of this year's Timberwolves team. During the fourth quarter, every time Wally touched the ball he was booed mercilessly. And of course, almost every time he touched the ball, he scored. It was like pouring Everclear on a fire to put it out.

It was so good to finally see a game like this. I've been waiting for this type of game for a while. The Wolves beat a good team, and they showed a lot of fire as well, which was emphasized at the end of the 3rd quarter by Wally. At the end of the Lakers loss, you could just see the fire in KG's eyes. He wasn't going to let the Wolves lose that game. Unfortunately, he didn't have much of a choice. During today's game, it seemed like everybody was fired up. It was like watching the Wolves of last year.

I'm hesitant to say that this could be a turning point in the season, since I've said it so many times before and been wrong every time. Let's just say they played with a lot of fire and hope that they keep it up.

In honor of this occasion, I'm not going to discuss all the things they did wrong during the game, and just savor the moment.

How about the rest of the NBA last night? I don't think I've ever seen so many good games in one night. ESPN televised two games last night where the game was tied on last second shots, and the Rockets beat the Knicks on a last second shot. When Nash dished the ball to Shawn Marion at the end of regulation of the Suns game, I didn't think there was any way he was going to score. There was tons of traffic around him and he has that unusual technique where he pushes the ball from his chest. If Earl Boykins had been standing in front of him, he would have been able to block that shot with his forehead.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Screw You Guys, I'm Becoming a Cavs Fan

If I were to sum up last night's Wolves game in one word, there is only one logical choice.


If you want an analogy for our season, all you have to do is look at that last possession of the game. Down by 3 points with 10 seconds to go, we had a chance to tie. Flip called a play in the huddle, which was never run. Instead, we had trouble inbounding the ball, then we finally got it to Troy, who basically stood there running out the clock until he finally threw the ball over to Spree. With 5 seconds left on the clock, he took a wild 3 from 28-feet away. Some craziness ensued and the ball somehow ended up with Troy Hudson who got a somewhat better look at a three and almost put it down.

That is basically how our season has gone to this point. Not how we planned it. Poorly executed. But we still have a chance (albeit a long shot) to do something with our season. If this were baseball, the Wolves would start trading for prospects right about now. But in the NBA, more than half the teams make the playoffs, so they're still got a good chance to get in. Unfortunately, if the playoffs started today, the Wolves would not even be in them.

I can't really figure out how we lost. Kobe was out due to injury, and their second best player, Lamar Odom, was sidelined for large portions of the game with foul trouble. Beyond Odom, pretty much all they have is Chucky Atkins.

The Wolves really blew their chance to gauge out the Laker's eyes at the end of the second quarter when Odom had to sit with foul trouble. We were up by 10 at that point, but instead of pounding them on the inside with Garnett, here's what the Wolves decided to do with their next four shots:
3:30--Troy Hudson missed 25 ft three point jumper.
2:53--Latrell Sprewell missed 23 ft three point jumper.
2:11--Latrell Sprewell missed 20 ft jumper.
1:46--Anthony Carter made 17 ft jumper. Assisted by Latrell Sprewell.
Not exactly what I call pounding the ball inside. It took us 5 possessions after Odom sat down to even attempt a shot from inside. Instead of increasing the lead and really eliminating any hope for the Lakers, we just hucked up long-range jumpers as usual and let them cut the lead to 3 by halftime.

Despite his 23 points, Sprewell did not have a good game. Apparently, somebody told him that he had only taken 6 shots the previous game, and decided to start taking any shot he could get. Just two nights prior, Hudson set a team record by taking 8 three-pointers without making a single one. Last night, Sprewell tied that record. He shot only 9-28.

On the other hand, KG had a great night offensively. He scored 27 points on only 19 shots. This just has to make you wonder why Spree was the one taking 28 shots, while Garnett got only 19. The Lakers had no way to stop KG except when every single person on the court came over and guarded him, and that didn't even work sometimes.

I'm running out of positive things to say about what might happen to the Wolves, so I'm gonna use the last thing I have in the tank.

The Wolves new alignments of the starting and second units has lead to improved defense. Their defense has pretty much sucked ass all season, and allowing fewer points is a must if this team wants to win. However, their offense has lost all of its cohesiveness. The good news is that this is something that might change once the new units get used to each other on offense. This was a big problem at the beginning of last year too. My hope is that things will right themselves offensively in the coming weeks (especially with the return of Cassell), and that their defense will remain improved. If I'm right about this, and I'm probably not, the Wolves can still finish the season strong and get a decent playoff seed. Maybe even homecourt in the first round.

If I'm wrong, here's what the Wolves need to do:

1) Cut Kandi. He's useless. I don't care how much we're paying him, it's not even worth it to have him on the team anymore. The Wolves would be better off eating his contract and signing somebody who actually wants to play. If you look at his plus/minus numbers, he's by far the worst player on the Wolves.

2) Trade Spree. He's playing a position where the Wolves already have plenty of talent. Trading him would allow us to start both Hassell and Wally. It would be nice if the Wolves could bring in somebody with young legs who would help bring some much needed energy to the court.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What Eddie Needs To Do

As promised, I will start with a personal anecdote. I figure people might appreciate hearing my basketball story, and it seems to tie in well with what I wanted to say about Eddie.

Despite the fact that I was always one of the tallest kids in my class growing up, I never really played basketball. I was quite athletic, and I played a lot of soccer and baseball growing up, as well as a little bit of floor hockey. Unfortunately, I more or less stopped growing once I got to high school, people started passing me up. And although I had stopped growing vertically, my job at a local Chinese restaurant helped me to continue growing horizontally.

At some point during my senior year, I decided that it was time to stop being so damn fat, so I went out and ran. A few weeks later I took up lifting. I had started playing a little bit of basketball by this point, but nothing remotely serious.

By the time I got to college, I had started to convert a lot of my excess fat to muscle, though not all of it. I was about 6'1" and weighed about 215, although that tended to go up and down a lot. I was still a little fat, but I had gotten quite strong, and my shoulders were quite broad. When I first started playing IM ball at Carleton, I didn't really know what I was doing. I didn't really have any skills since I had never played before and had no knowledge of the game since I hadn't even watched all that much basketball.

One day, I was chatting with a friend of mine who played on the Men's basketball team there and asking for advice on how to play. He recommended to me that I try to start posting up. Obviously, for any sort of high level basketball, I'd be too short to do this, but for Carleton IM ball, I was plenty big.

My game changed dramatically when I started doing this. I had a very intuitive sense about how to use my body to create space, and my rebounding was coming along as well. It was about this time that I started getting into watching the NBA as well, so my knowledge of the game increased as well. I developed a jump hook, which became my patented move.

After a while, however, I began to feel that my game was incomplete. I needed to be close to the basket to score, and I admired those people who could shoot well from outside because they could score from anywhere on the court. I was limited to that small space underneath the basket.

I decided it was time to learn how to shoot. My biggest problem with jump shooting was that my form was inconsistent. Once I was able to refine my technique and shoot the ball the same way every time, I became a decent jump shooter. I even had a little bit of three-point range, though I was selective about when I shot them.

Bringing this new aspect of my game to the court, I quickly learned something about jump shooters. They're lazy. Sitting back and launching shots from outside is a very easy way to play the game. Posting up required much more energy. Most of the people at Carleton who shot a lot of jump shots were either too small to post up, or too slow to try and drive to the hoop. All of my admiration for these people went straight out the window.

Of course, it's an important skill to have, especially in the NBA. When an open shot presents itself, it's important that you be able to make it. However, jump shooting is also a trap. Because it's so much easier to just shoot the ball than it is to get to the rim, it's quite alluring to just sit back and shoot the ball. This of course, violates the fundamental theorem of basketball.

This brings me back to Eddie G. He had tremendous success shooting the 3 early in the season. Since then, his 3-point shooting has gone completely to shit. Since his amazing 7-15 night against Philly, he's gone just 18-71. That's a pathetic 0.76 points per shot. Because Eddie shot so well early in the season, he fell into the jump shooting trap. He became perfectly content to sit outside and wait for any available opportunity to shoot the ball. The average value of an NBA possession is almost exactly 1 point (I'm not exactly sure what an average NBA shot is worth pointwise). As all teams should do, the Wolves need aim to maximize the average amount of points per shot. Being an above average team, they should be able to get shots that net much higher than the above 0.76 points.

This means, every time Eddie shoots a three early in a possession, the Wolves are losing out on points that they should have gotten. We all though Eddie was an amazing three-point shooter early in the season, but the truth is that he's not really that good. He's a career .338 shooter. This averages out to 1.014 points per shot. This is pretty good, but not spectacular. The Wolves should aim to get a shot better than this on every possession.

During the Toronto game, Eddie's long shots looked terrible. Even the one that went in was a fluke, bouncing off the rim, then the backboard, then the rim again before it went in. Every time he put up a three, I internally shouted to myself "Stop that!"

The other aspects of his game have been getting better. He's had three solid rebounding efforts in a row (7-18-9) and three solid blocking efforts (3-4-3). His post game looked solid as well. He was able to hit and even when he didn't, he was often able to get his own rebound. Of course, rebounding your own miss goes a long way toward maximizing points per possession.

So here's what needs to happen with Eddie. Flip needs to cut him off from shooting threes. No more threes unless there is less than 4 seconds on the shot clock. Flip also then should start running post plays for Eddie, and should start running plays that will put him near the basket in order to put him in good position for an offensive rebound. Eddie needs to buckle down and focus on making good hustle plays and playing good defense. When he knows he can't shoot the three anymore, this should keep him from being distracted and allow him to do all the other things he does so well.

As his game continues to grow, we'll eventually work in the three point shooting again. But for now, Flip should simplify and "just say no" to Griffin three point shooting.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Are You Kidding Me?

The Raptors had lost 11 in a row on the road. They had never who in Target center. That is, until tonight.

I was pumped at the beginning of the game. We had won two straight, and watching them out there for the first 5 minutes, they looked like a different team than I had been watching all season. Of course, they sort of were a different team. Their starting 5 consisted of Carter/Hassell/Sprewell/Garnett/Thomas is a completely different look than Wolves fans have been used to seeing. For the first five minutes or so, they looked like a team inspired to win, and they were playing very strong D. Sure, they missed a few easy shots, but if they kept playing like this, they would inevitably win by 20.

Of course, as soon as I start noticing this, something bad happened. I'm not exactly sure what it was, but all of a sudden everything seemed to go wrong. The Raptors made everything. It wasn't entirely the Wolves fault--but it wasn't entirely not their fault either. The Raptors made a few tough 3s with a hand in their face, but they were also getting a bunch of easy ones.

The Wolves real problem, however, seemed to be on offense. There was no flow whatsoever. They weren't even trying to get to the basket. They'd just run around and eventually take a mid- to long-range jumper. This would be a good time to introduce what I would like to call "The fundamental theorem of basketball".
It is easier to score when you're closer to the basket.
It's intuitive I know, but from time to time it seems like the Wolves forget this. The 3-point shot throws a bit of a wrench into the theorem, but the general idea still holds. If you're taking a lot of shots from close to the basket, and preventing your opponents from getting shots close to the basket, you'll win a lot more than you lose.

For an extended period during the first half, it appeared that the Wolves had been replaced by evil zombie Timberwolves. They were just running around on the court and eventually launching a shot miles away from the basket. Especially THud. He's the zombie king.

The second half (and the end of the first half) was a bit of a different story. The Wolves played much better and Toronto much worse. I don't think I've ever seen a team miss so many shots so horribly as Toronto did in the second half of this game. Each time they put up one of those shots I kept thinking "I can't believe we're going to lose to this team".

Unfortunately, despite their return from suckitude, the Wolves had a few things going against them. First, they had to overcome an 18-point deficit. Second, KG was in foul trouble and had to sit for a good portion of the second half. Third, the Wolves received about 4 absolutely awful calls during the 3rd quarter (none which lead to KG's foul trouble however). Donyell Marshall, at .350 3-point shooter, went 6-8 from three point range.

In the end, it was all just too much. I hardly know what to think now (again). On the one hand, the Wolves had to have just about everything go wrong in order to lose to the Raptors. On the other hand, we lost to the Raptors.

All I ask is: No more evil zombie Timberwolves.

Then we'll be fine.

Tomorrow: A personal anecdote and what Eddie G should be doing (and not doing).

Team Identity

It's my own opinion that a team identity is the most important thing an NBA team can have. The most crucial aspect of team identity is:

Each player on the team must buy into the team concept.

Most players at the NBA level have been quasi basketball gods for almost their whole life and can only buy into a team concept if the coach is highly regarded and proven (Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, etc) or if there is a definitive superstar who they can defer to. This is not Vince Carter -- his team gave up deferring a long time ago because he simply can't be the leader he needs to be. The Twolves make the playoffs every year not only because KG is a stud but because the team defers to him (yes the Twolves have great talent now, but a few years ago it was KG passing to KG who was then throwing the alleyoop to KG). The Pistons won the 'ship last year because the team was able to defer to Larry Brown.

This involves each player knowing exactly what they are expected to contribute. For example, guys with Mark Madsen's skill set generally do not succeed in the NBA. He's a well below average shooter, below average passer, below average dribbler, and has well below average athleticism and height for his position (generally C or PF). Ok, so he's below average on so many fronts but is able to be a difference maker on good nights and a decent defesnvie stop-gap measure on bad nights. He does this through a very high basketball IQ and knowing exactly what his limitations are. You will not see him dribble the ball upcourt. You will not see him drive to the hoop and attempt a pass in traffic. You will not see him shoot a 15 footer. He maximizes his ability by being extremely high energy and smart. He also is very overlooked and knows when to flash to the basket for an open dunk or when he needs to come over on help D to take a charge.

Ok, a good example of someone who does not know what's going on is Kobe Bryant. For a few years he would defer to Shaq and bought into Phil's concept. As soon as he got sick of Phil and stopped deferring the whole team had no idea how to play in their roles. Last year the Lakers survived off of pure talent and experience but as soon as they lost Karl, no one on the team knew what to do (except Luke Walton who was the reason they won game 2, no Kobe wasn't the reason). I've watched many Lakers games this year now that I'm in Southern California and I can say that it is obvious the team wants to defer to Kobe but Kobe does not now how to be the man and make his teammates better. He is very close to being another Vince Carter or Tracy McGrady who's team concept shortcomings were overcome by Shaq and Phil.

Wonder why the Warriors haven't made the playoffs in a decade? They haven't had the requisite coach or requisite stud player that their team was willing to defer to. Chris Webber was too immature, ditto for Spreewell, and Joe Smith just plain sucked. Frankly, I felt that Gilbert Arenas could have been that guy a couple of years ago but their brilliant management let him get away. Noticed that the Warriors-East (Wizards) are having a great season? Well, it's because the players traded to the Wizards have been together a few years and have matured into a cohesive nucleus.

How is this all applicable to the Wolves? I'm glad you asked because so far this year (for the first time since KG has been with them) they are NOT playing team basketball. Their most important parts (Cassell and Spree namely) have not bought into the concept that worked so well last year. Their new weapon, Eddie is in an uncomfortable position because he needs the more experienced leaders to define his role for him, but instead sometimes he needs to be the scorer, sometimes the defender, and sometimes the rebounder. KG is talented and experienced enough to know when to slide into these roles but I think Eddie has struggled to find his niche (and has run into a quasi rookie wall). Spree and Cassell are the biggest culprits. Spree doesn't seem to realize that he has a shot at a ring if he would only stay focused and bring the things he brought last year -- energy, defense, and a strong scoring punch when other teams focused on KG and Cassell. Sam has been battling injuries, but he doesn't seem too interested in getting the Wolves running on all cylanders like they were last year. Somehow he needs to set the offensive flow and make sure the defense engages when KG isn't playing the top of a 1-2-2 zone. As soon as this example is set, everyone will be focused and ready to feed off of all of the opportunities afforded by their superstar.

I think the Wolves are finally sensing the need to come together and especially the need to stop teams from scoring so much on them. Their offense can succeed even when they're not playing as a team since they have enough talented scorers -- their defense can only be as good as their weakest link.

Their robust 2 game winning streak is a nice start but it's not going to matter unless they can parlay it into a team consistent team identity and effort.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

We Did It!

So maybe it was just the Blazers. Maybe it was the same team who lost the previous night to the Hornets despite Stoudemire's 54 points. Maybe it's a team that was missing Zach Randolph, Darius Miles, and Shareef Abur-Raheem. To quote myself from several days ago:
Unfortunately, at this point the Twolves need to stop getting moral victories and start getting actual victories. They need to build big leads and turn them into bigger leads--leads so big that they can't possibly blow them. Instead of me saying "What the Wolves can take from this game is that Troy Hudson played very well", they need me to say"What the Wolves can take from this game is that they won and it's their 7th win in 8 games".
Well, it wasn't their 7th win in 8 games, but it was their second straight. And despite the fact that it was against a crippled Blazers team, it counts the same in the win column as a win against the Spurs.

For the second straight game, Spree had a fantastic night. Throughout his entire career, he's been a streaky player. So far this season we haven't really seen him hit a good streak, but now we finally are.

It couldn't come at a better time either, as we've needed somebody to pick up the slack for Cassell. I can only assume that this means Spree finally figured out how to feed his family on $14.6 million and still have enough left over for rims.

The Wolves D was as good as I've seen it this season as well. Despite the Blazers shooting 50% from three point range, we limited them to only 84 points. The Wolves pretty much forced them to take everything from outside. Of course, their inside game was severely lacking due to the absence of the players mentioned above. Still, our defense was stifling. Especially in the second half, it seemed like everything the Blazers put up was blocked or in danger of being blocked. This improved D could have to do with the new lineups, it could have to do with the fact that Cassell and Kandi are out, or it could just be because we're playing poor offensive teams. I imagine it's some combination of the three, but you know what? I'll take it.

Kandi was suspended for 4 games for his spat with Mr. Hilario. Nene also received a 4 game suspension. I was a bit surprised that they got the same suspensions. 4 games seems appropriate for Kandi, but if he gets 4, then Nene deserves 6. Nene is really the one who initiated the whole thing by head-butting Kandi, and he really did a lot more of the actual fighting when he busted out his windmill style. Kandi really only threw one punch, and frankly, it wasn't even a good punch. I say the Wolves should appeal Nene's suspension and ask that he gets more. Not Kandi though, he got what he deserved.